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Good Blend: Wine and Neapolitan Songs


The Neapolitan song has, for generations, been a cultural mainstay for both Italians and non-Italians alike. Its presence in covers by famous singers such as Frank Sinatra, Connie Francis, and Dean Martin, and which received great radio play in the 1950s and 1960s, helped to ensure its place in American culture. The Neapolitan song has, and still does, play an important role in the expression of this group’s specific social class and collective experience. During the influx of the southern Italian diaspora to the United States at the turn of the twentieth century, the immigrants brought their traditions with them and adapted them to their new environment, becoming the Italian folk music that we know today. Not only did these songs serve as entertainment, but they also served as a means of retaining the Neapolitan identity that the immigrants felt that they could potentially lose in exchange for integration into American culture. All of this, which helped to ensure the popularity of these songs in America, were most likely some of the reasons that a large crowd was drawn to the Community Music Center of  Boston last evening, Dec. 3.  Then there were those fine wines.

The concert was part of CMCB wine-and-music series, a clever idea, indeed, that pairs songs with wines that exemplify the chosen pieces, and in total the combination concert and wine tasting lasted about eighty minutes. The songs in this concert, entitled “Italy- Italian,” were grouped into three sets of four: Triste Canzoni (Sad Songs), Commedia Canzoni (Comical Songs), and Canzoni d’Amore (Love Songs), with wine-tasting in between. Of course, in terms of the Neapolitan song, there is no clear-cut identification for any song, as there is great thematic overlap between the three. I was puzzled about the categorization of  a few of the songs. “Era di Maggio,” which is about a man who leaves his fiancée to go to America and promises to come back when the roses are blooming, leans more toward the sad songs than the love songs. Similarly, the way that Carmen Marsico, voice teacher at the Boston Community Music Center, interpreted the Commedia canzoni, is what made them humorous. Otherwise, the words themselves perhaps would more aptly describe these four songs as Felici Canzoni (Happy Songs).

I am not sure if guitarist Björn Wennås was working from an arrangement or not, but the accompaniment seemed quite sparse, and often the places where there were heavy ornamentation seemed almost arbitrarily placed. Likewise, Marsico’s ornamentation on a couple of occasions seemed overly embellished. But the interaction between the artists ensured that the emotional content of the music came across — helped by the fact that the two artists are married to one another.

The only thing better than wine and music is wine and music together, and the concert provided a warm, cozy, and enjoyable evening on what otherwise was a brisk December night.

Reba Wissner is in the Doctoral Program in Musicology at Brandeis University.

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  1. The wine and music concerts are now a fabulous mainstay at Community Music Center of Boston. Many artists have been inspired by wine – like Mozart and his love for Marzemino in Don Giovanni. These concerts are unique opportunities to have wine be inspired by the music. Thank you, Reba.

    Comment by Jo-Ann Ross — December 4, 2010 at 1:16 pm

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